4/1/20 Emily Mettler

Emily Mettler, pictured in blue, leads a pack of runners at the Groundhog Day race in Zionsville, Indiana, earlier this year.

Those who knew the 27-year-old Purdue employee and former graduate student who was killed in a traffic collision last week say she inspired others and “lived life to the fullest.”

The Tippecanoe County coroner’s office confirmed this week that Emily Mettler died in the crash.

After finishing her master’s degree in biology at Purdue Fort Wayne in May 2019, Mettler had moved to Lafayette last fall to work as a field research coordinator in Purdue’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. Her research focused on wildlife preservation, wildlife science professor Rob Swihart said. She had just published her thesis on the habitats of endangered sea turtles.

A grain truck collided with Mettler’s Ford pickup truck near the intersection of U.S. 231 South and Veterans Memorial Parkway in Lafayette around 2 p.m. March 25, according to the Tippecanoe County sheriff’s office. The collision set the car ablaze. Police have not indicated how the crash happened.

Coroner Donna Avolt said the cause of death has been diagnosed as multiple blunt-force trauma due to a motor vehicle accident.

Swihart worked with Mettler here and said colleagues admired her for her intelligence and extraordinary work ethic.

“She was one of those rare individuals filled with optimism and committed to turning challenges into journeys of self-improvement,” Swihart said in an email. “She had an effervescent personality, a quick wit and a ready smile. We will miss her immensely.”

Natalia Sanchez, 26, said the two met in summer 2019 when Mettler joined the Wabash River Runners Club. Sanchez is the president of the organization, and the two would run together on weekends, as well as mentor young runners together.

“She was confident and outgoing. I think we made plans to hang out, if not the first time we hung out together, the second time,” Sanchez said. “She was really welcoming to people she didn’t know and was easy to talk to.”

Mettler was an avid exerciser, Sanchez said, rock climbing at the Córdova Recreational Sports Center or doing yoga when she wasn’t running. Her assortment of hobbies never seemed to interfere with her dedication to completing her full-time professional workload.

Mettler’s openness to engaging in new experiences inspired her friend and fellow club member Miranda Belcher, 26 and a doctoral student in organic chemistry. Belcher said Mettler was planning to pursue her doctoral degree and expressed regret she would never get the chance.

Both runners were training for the same Indianapolis marathon when they met and ended up running sub-four-hour races together.

“She was very resilient and adventurous and lived life to the fullest,” Belcher said. “That inspires me to take on things in life that are a bit out of my comfort zone.”

Belcher said when she heard the news of Mettler’s death, she began to consider how the WRRC could organize a race in her honor. The proceeds would likely be donated to some form of environmental charity, Belcher said, though plans are still tentative.

On the Sunday before Mettler’s death, Sanchez said she had just missed an opportunity to run with her friend.

“I saw her pickup truck, and I didn’t think that would be the last time I might see her,” Sanchez said.

Mettler had extensive plans for the future even though she had already accomplished a lot, Sanchez said. She hopes the group of runners, who were some of Mettler’s closest friends in the area, can find ways to ensure they honor their friend’s memory.

“I’ve known her less than a year, but she was one of those people where you felt like you’ve known them for so long,” Sanchez said. “I want to make sure that on my end, I embody the things that I thought were so wonderful about her.”

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